Sunday, January 17, 2010

evolution of an unbeliever

We got there late so we were sitting in the last, highest row of the balcony and when it came time to kneel the first time, I remained seated.  I had told my mother in advance that I was not going to kneel so there would be no surprises.  She grabbed my arm and tried to force me to my knees which only made me resist all the more.  After the prayer was over, my mother, mortified, made us all get up and leave right then and that was the last time we ever went to church as a family.  I was 17 and it was Christmas Eve.

We had not been in the habit of attending regular services since I was about 14.  After the big scandal, my mother could not bear to show her face in church, in public, having been booted out of their circle of friends.  Or perhaps the whole group of friends parted ways, I don’t know.  All I know is that all of a sudden their busy social life came to a screeching halt and it became my father’s responsibility to take us to church while she slept in with a ‘headache’.  My father was not a religious man and the only reason he went was because it was expected of him, as a family man.  So you can imagine it didn’t take much for us kids to talk him out of it and into taking us to breakfast at the diner instead.  Pretty soon, even that little farce was abandoned.  Except on Christmas Eve and Easter.  Those we still went to.

When I was 13 my parents enrolled me in communion classes along with all the other good sunday school kids.  In our congregation, the kids who were not old enough for communion were sent off to sunday school during services, after the plate was passed but before the sermon.  Once we had undergone communion, a big rite of passage, we were expected to stay for the sermon.  I was totally uninterested in this especially since they assigned homework.  Homework which I never did.  Towards the end of the classes, with communion looming nigh, a call went out to my parents and an emergency meeting was arranged...your daughter is in danger of not being confirmed.  This would not be tolerated, it would look exceedingly bad so under dire threat I had to outline the life of Christ as told by the book of John or maybe Peter and was admitted to the ranks of those that could receive the blood and body of Christ.  After the first few times, the novelty wore off and, thankfully, about that time we quit going to church on a regular basis...because really, eating your god?

One day at sunday school, I’m not sure how old I was, before puberty because after puberty my concerns were entirely different, the sunday school teacher was teaching us about creation, and I, fresh from science class and learning about dinosaurs and such wanted know, how, if this was true, dinosaurs could have roamed the earth for so long.  She blinked at me like an owl, momentarily silenced, before she blurted out some total nonsense.  That was the day I learned the bible was a crock.

Earlier still, I remember wondering how a loving god could condemn a new born baby.  Anyone could look at a new born and know there was no such thing as original sin.  The whole three in one bothered me as well.  Why was the pantheon of other religions bad, but the pantheon of Christianity was good?  And if god was so loving, why were so many people condemned to hell, especially the ones who never heard of him?  Especially the ones who lived good honest lives.  And nascent feminist that I was, I hated the whole story of the creation of Eve and the Garden of Eden.

This little piece was in response to Bonnie over at Original Art Studio who did a post the other day about god, good and evil.  I left a comment about what I perceive to be the nature of god and she responded with a did you and at what point did you arrive at this way of perceiving life and God?...but before I can answer that I had to get to ground zero, disbelief in my natal religious indoctrination.


  1. It's always harder for Catholics to let go, I think because of all the specific iconography, the graphic images and the potent ritual like the mass and holy water and crossing themselves, etc.

    I worship a loving god that has no personality. Gotta go check out Bonnie's blog.


  2. Thanks for amplifying the interesting response/comment you left on my blog post about 'god and evil'. I will be watching for the next installments.

  3. ellen - such an unpacking!! i know that reya and i have shared thoughts about this one on a previous occasion but i'll amplify her comment and say that my god isn't a person, an object, a place, or anything tangible. i arrived at that through first experiencing a slightly similar letting go to you and then through the experience of learning what i could about the world's religions, reading those books that didn't make it into the bible, meeting people with a deeper commitment to their spiritual path than i, and especially through meeting sufis. my god is the love that connects the allness of everything. easy words but that's what i can share here!! i'd best nip over and read what bonnie has to say. beautiful day! steven

  4. "After the first few times, the novelty wore off and, thankfully, about that time we quit going to church on a regular basis...because really, eating your god?"

    You have a valid point there, Ellen. LOL.

    You know I'm Christian, spiritual in my own way, and a believer in the Bible. If you get a good enough teacher, the questions you ask are very clearly answered in a way that not only makes sense, but is comforting. The wrong teacher makes it just a mysterious bunch of blah blah. I guess that's where faith enters the picture.

    Organized religion can be distasteful. I agree with that. I struggle with all the Jim Bakkers and the Jimmy Swaggarts and others of their ilk who have always held their own interests in higher esteem than their supposed God. But that's not everyone and that's not faith.

    Still, I get how confusing it can all be. And hypocritical. And if we are supposed to be held to this impossible standard, at least make the rules clear and not so easy to interpret differently depending on your denomination. Maybe that's the idea behind the Ten Commandments. In a nutshell, that pretty much describes how we should live our lives. And curiously... it's not religious. It's common sense.

    Anyway - I understand. A lot of people are turned off by religion and in many ways, so am I. That's why I have made a clear distinction between religion and faith. Religion weighs you down under a mantle of unachievable righteousness. Faith gives you the power to get up every day and try anyway.

    Love you Ellen. This is one of my favorite of your posts. It was a great read. And yes... what about those bellybuttons?

  5. Ellen, Alix sent me over here. I posted about this very thing yesterday. We are on the same wavelength about our religious outlook, it seems. My family didn't go to church, though, after I was about 4. I went occasionally with other people (as a tag-along) and later with my husband and kids.

    You captured the feelings I had of being in church as well as the constant nagging doubts and the growing belief that it was all an elaborate con.

  6. As you know, as a Southern Baptist I went to church 8 days a week & twice on Sundays LOL. I remember being in about the 6th grade or so when I learned that the Red Sea was really the REED Sea. Upset my whole world view, little legalist that I was. So I figured out, oh these are STORIES, & sometimes the writer isn't accurate. OK, stories about God. I can live with that. I'll just have my OWN stories with God & not worry so much about the Bible being the inerrant word of God. As you might imagine, I'm not a Southern Baptist anymore :)

  7. After my confirmation, attending church became my choice. I chose not to go. My mom had done her duty. She took me to church, got me through catechism and I was confirmed. She was off the hook after that.

    Church never did it for me. I never did believe in the God they taught about, and I was raised in a community that there was a predominant religion, and I was the outsider. We (the catechism Christians) were very critical of the majority we lived among...and talked constantly about how they were goofball fake-o Christians. That they would burn in hell while we danced with God. That always bothered me. We had the one true God? And this God would condemn his children to Hell because they picked the wrong man made religion?

    35 years later, I've come up with a God who resembles your's Ellen. My God is more like a loving parent, who wants more than anything for me to be right and well. Who gives me the tools to be right and well, but can't make me use them. Who speaks to me, but can't make me listen. Who is no more omnipotent and omniscient than I am as a parent who loves her children more than life itself...but is powerless to protect them from harm, evil, bad choices...

    To me...God does encompass all things in this universe. The light and the dark, the good and the evil, the love and the hate. How can we have light without darkness? Happiness without grief? Pleasure without Pain?

    I finally have a good fit with a Higher Power. I believe there is something bigger than me, beyond my comprehension, and I'm willing to sit with this God rather than the God I was raised to believe in. The God of religion is a man made construct, that has nothing to do with God as far as I can see.

  8. When beliefs are concerned - Ipm still evolving, I guess. I haven't been to church in ages and I constantly feel guilty about it - but not enough to go. My children were more like you when they were younger, then they soon proclaimed themselves atheists.

    I'm not so much attached to this specific religion, but claiming ourselves as the highest and the most perfect beings ever existing? Don't know about that. You?

  9. No doubt about it, I failed confirmation class. But they took pity on me and said if I came to church every Sunday for a year without fail, they would go ahead and confirm me. I sort of nodded my head. I think I made it for about three weeks and then I went wandering...

  10. The perfect order of the universe, the many beautiful plants, the many kinds of animals, the mountains, the rivers, the clouds that bring us rain and snow--all these are evidence that there is a creator.

    Over the centuries methods of worship have been distorted, and information has been taken away and lost. But the truth is available. Keep your mind open and continue to search.

  11. Reya mentions "it's always harder for Catholics to let go". I was reared in the Methodist church and let me tell you it was difficult for me to let it all go. I still have problems with it all. My surviving family members are Southern Baptists and most are as closed minded as they come.

    In my late 40s I joined a very liberal Episcopal Church in Austin which fell into my area of comfort. Now I am a nonpracticing Episcopalian as I do not live in a town that has a church in which I fee comfortable. Believing in a higher being is important most people but more often than not it is upsetting and distressing to me and has been since I was a teenager.

    I look forward to reading your coming posts. It seems we have much in common.

  12. It's a familiar story you tell, Ellen, familiar to me at least.

    There are those who will suggest it's to do with Catholicism but I think Catholics, the lapsed variety at least, are not the only ones to suffer the levels of disillusionment you describe here.

    Institutionalized religion tends to be problematic, full of inconsistencies, hypocrisies and secrets.

    Of all people, children like your child self as you describe here, are the first to find holes in these religious presentations.

    As the Australian writer Maria Tumarkin suggests, children are like sniffer dogs. They can pick up secrets no matter how well concealed. Naive they may be but children are sensitive and quick to detect falsehoods, even if they cannot articulate them until later in life, if at all.

  13. I totally believe in God, but sadly religion has often more harm than good.

  14. We don't "do" church either...! Religion is the bane of the world I think. Look what it has caused people to do and they feel justified. I celebrate my life with God as a loving Father and an empty hell! Too many "Christians" are eager to throw people into hell...Jesus died so that wouldn't happen!! He will make sure that everyone gets to know Him. He can take care of Himself!

  15. Church is not for me either... I liked your post, we are all entitled to a rant!

  16. Churches have one big problem .... the people! I doubt that God will ever judge me as severely as the people of church have. A relationship with anyone is personal ....... including God.

  17. I was raised a Methodist...torture by tedium. As an adult, I converted to Catholicism. Later on, I dropped the whole thing. It began to bother me every time I dropped a donation into the plate, that perhaps the money was going for the legal fees of some child molesting priest. Later still, I refused to go back until the day a woman gives the homily and until i can get married there, if I choose to. That day shows no signs of arriving.

  18. This post makes me sad...
    I grew up Methodist, converted to Presbyterian, explored Mormon faith,converting to Catholicism @ 23. I taught Sunday School to children, Catholic Classes to pre-teens & Confirmation to teens. I love my Christian Faith. I love getting the teens to explore and research and WANT to learn. My kids always had a strong desire by the end of our confirmation classes. They went through Confirmation because they wanted to not because they had to.
    Although I was a strictly weekly Church girl, i currently am in a funk and can't seem to get there, but Christ Lives Within me and through me. I could never be without God or the Church.
    I can't imagine my life without Christ heavily involved. God is what makes me go on and strive to live. Without Him I would surely had committed suicide. My life hasn't always been easy and depression makes the simplest things so difficult at times, however, I know that with God by my side, I can prevail. Sure I could do without the drama my congregation has as well as the snotty people and all, but I think there is a reason for everything, including facing those.
    ...I am not sad anymore. I think you just gave me the kick in the pants I needed to get my booty back to church on Sunday! So, I guess I owe you a Thank You, & God Bless.

  19. Oh Ellen.

    I completely understand. I wasn't raised Catholic, but Methodist. Nevertheless, by the time I was probably eight years old, I was already questioning everything I read in the Bible. Even my little immature brain knew it didn't make a bit of sense. When I'd ask these questions I had, I'd get some lame answer or an, "You just have to believe, Bridgett."

    Well, no, I don't have to believe and I never did from that point forward. Unfortunately, mom continued forcing me to go to church with her, but instead of listening, I'd play 'Hangman' with my friends and pass notes back and forth in our Sunday school books about our dates on Saturday night.

    Mom was mortified by my "obnoxious" behavior. And perhaps I was obnoxious. But I was also ticked I was being forced into a faith I couldn't stand behind.

    So yes. Here's a soul who agrees wholeheartedly with you.

    I really enjoyed this entry and I look forward to the next installment.



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